“Don’t let perfect get in the way of good.” I credit Liza Thomas for this one. It is some of the most valuable advice I have ever been given! I am a details person through and through. At times that can be a blessing, but at times, seeking “perfection” can be a waste of both energy and time. Finding a balance and being able to identity when something is “good enough” allows you to keep moving forward and, like agile development, you can then reiterate in a much more intelligent way. When starting a business, there are never enough hours in the day. Prioritizing what matters and optimizing time management become incredibly vital skills in your tool chest.
I had the pleasure of interviewing Carolyn Holliday, a Baltimore native and founder and CEO of Warble Inc. Carolyn is a seasoned marketing and ecommerce executive with over 20 years experience helping both consumer and B2b companies grow their brands and digital footprints.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! What is your “backstory”?
I am a Baltimore native who grew up in a family with three brothers. While being the only girl is something I may not have fully appreciated when I was younger, (I was constantly begging my parents for a sister — you are welcome, brother #3!) I think it ultimately instilled in me a gender blindness of sorts that has benefited me throughout my career and life.
I was taught from a young age that I could do anything. There was never a distinction made between my brothers and me. My incredibly diplomatic father would make us take votes on what we watched on tv. As I was regularly outvoted, He-Man, the A-Team and The Incredible Hulk were the shows of my childhood.
Both of my parents were medical doctors and always highlighted the importance of education yet never micromanaged us. Ours was a household where it was expected that if we had homework — we would do it. They never checked it, rather, we learned through experience the concept of action and consequence and ultimately, self-reliance.
These pretty simple and basic skills have helped me immensely throughout my life and career. I like to think my parents empowered me with a healthy degree of confidence that has allowed me to take both initiative and risks throughout my life when opportunity presented itself. In college, I got faculty approval to design my own major. My second job out of school I convinced the President of the company to let me stand up its first ecommerce business; a move that started me on a path that resulted in a 20 year+ career as a Marketing and Ecommerce professional. When I saw a glaring pervasive problem that impacted both employees and companies, I decided to jump all in on finding a solution, and I founded Warble.
Why did you found your company?
The idea for Warble was born out of a personal experience I went through. I was a female Director at a publicly traded company, and I had a bad boss. Every day would be another instance of their unnecessary office politics, and my test of will to resist it. This person was handcuffing my ability to add value at work. They appeared to be making decisions that sacrificed what was best for the company or our team in favor of what they perceived to be best for them. I knew it was wrong and I also had no idea what I could do about it. They were a senior executive who reported directly to the CEO.
After an unsuccessful attempt at an honest conversation with my boss had only darkened the target he had on me, I did something I had never done before. I quit. I left without a net or a job, but with a vision. I was going to find a way to fix this all too common and pervasive problem in the workplace; toxic and harmful behaviors of a few, usually those with some modicum of power, that not only strip employees of respect, motivation and job satisfaction, but that are also extremely disruptive and dangerous to the business as well. This experience was the inspiration for Warble.
What is it about the work you’re doing that’s disruptive?
I’m disrupting the notion of varying levels of accountability at work. Stories of toxic behaviors abound & most have one thing in common — a power dynamic that protects the person behaving badly. Fear often keeps people quiet and the offender gets away with it. Both companies and people suffer. I created Warble with the hope that all employees can have a safe, viable pathway to affect positive change without having to walk away to do it.
Warble allows US based employees to anonymously and freely report harmful work behavior directly to an offender’s boss. When enough reports come in about one person, (thus validating a problem and filtering for personal grudges) the DIRECT manager is notified. By alerting someone who is motivated to resolve a potential issue, Warble makes it much more likely that constructive recourse will take place, such as training, coaching or disciplinary action.
Our mission is to help companies identify people problems before they negatively impact corporate culture and revenues. Warble serves two purposes; for employees, it offers an anonymous channel to report harmful, disruptive or illegal behavior in the workplace, and for employers, it offers a way to identify personnel issues before they escalate and have a negative impact on morale, productivity and ultimately, revenue and corporate liability.
My hope is that Warble will act as a deterrent to toxic or abusive workplace behaviors. There is no better kryptonite for a bully than accountability.
We all need a little help along the journey — who have been some of your mentors?
I have honestly been blessed by having a number of amazing managers and teammates throughout the years. Many of them I have/continue to return to for feedback and advice as I continue the journey of growing Warble. I would say however, that of all, three women stand out as especially powerful influences for me.
The first is my mother. Through her example, I saw how strong, resilient, capable and deeply loving a woman can be. She gave me faith and taught me to believe in myself.
The second was a former boss, Janet Goldman. She was the Founder and President of Fragments Inc., a former jewelry and accessories showroom in New York, and is now the Chairman of the Board of Goldman Properties. She showed me how leveraging creativity in business can be a catalyst for growth and success. She was innovative in both the way she built her B2B fashion showroom and ultimately expanded the business into B2C retail as well. Her trust in me gifted me with the most pivotal opportunities of my career.
Liza Thomas was a former director at Microsoft and a direct boss of mine at two different companies. Beyond having exceeding intelligence and grace, Liza has a remarkable ability to deliver candid feedback in the most beautiful, direct, clear way. We used to joke about her that she had a velvet glove on a lead fist. Her leadership skills perpetually inspired and motivated us. When faced with challenges throughout my career, “What would Liza do?” is often where I find my solution.
How are you going to shake things up next?
Honestly, with Warble still in its first year, it will continue to be my focus/my baby for now. That said, we keep having to buy new wipes board at the office to fit the roadmap we have plotted for phase 2 and beyond! Regardless of the path ahead though it will be forged with our vision for every employee to have an unobstructed opportunity to achieve their fullest potential while participating in and contributing to their employer’s strategic goals.
Can you share 3 of the best words of advice you’ve gotten along your journey? Please give a story or example for each.
“Don’t let perfect get in the way of good.”
I credit Liza Thomas for this one. It is some of the most valuable advice I have ever been given! I am a details person through and through. At times that can be a blessing, but at times, seeking “perfection” can be a waste of both energy and time. Finding a balance and being able to identity when something is “good enough” allows you to keep moving forward and, like agile development, you can then reiterate in a much more intelligent way.
When starting a business, there are never enough hours in the day. Prioritizing what matters and optimizing time management become incredibly vital skills in your tool chest.
“Be steadfast in your vision and flexible on everything else.”
I am not sure where I first saw this, but it was around the time I had quit my job. I read a lot of books and articles as I was plotting my course, but this advice above all stayed with me and I continue to leverage it as a touchstone or mantra whenever there is a bump or pivot (which is often when you are starting a new business!). So many things have been variables or changes along the way with Warble, from contemplating investment to deciding to boot-strap, from technologies, marketing, messaging even go to market strategies. The one thing that has not wavered though through it all is the original vision, and that has become my anchor.
“Don’t stay in one place too long….”
Early in my career, a Senior Sales Exec I deeply respected told me that his biggest regret was staying with one company for 17 years, during which time he watched his previous reports leap frog him in their careers. He told me not to make that mistake, and instead, find new opportunities every 3–5 years.
Taking his advice has gifted me with invaluable experiences across multiple businesses and industries, experiencing many different company cultures, teammates and leadership styles. I witnessed the unique and similar challenges facing varied businesses. I was able to develop new tools and peer connections at each opportunity that have prepared me even more than I could have imagined for the adventure that is founding a startup.
What’s a book/podcast/talk that’s had a deep impact on your thinking? Share a story with us.
Jason D. Rowley did a Crunchbase News series last fall titled “A Start Up Takes flight” which details clearly and succinctly the process of raising money from VCs, determining valuations, and the results of successfully achieving an exit. I would recommend it to anyone who wants a quick read or high level understanding of the way VC funding works. It was one of many contributors that influenced me when I ultimately decided to bootstrap Warble to market before taking investors.
Some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might see this. :-)
Oh wow, there are so many people I admire — this is hard. Generally speaking, I look up to the risk takers who, when they reach the top, are able to maintain a sense of humility and appreciation for the journey and luck they found along the way and then choose to pay it forward. Be it Richard Branson saving the planet, Mark Cuban supporting new entrepreneurs, or Bethenny Frankel’s B Strong, the ones who choose to leverage their success to improve the lives of others are truly inspirational to me.
How can our readers follow you on social media?
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!